Is It Time to Worry About South Carolina?

Posted by Greg Mitchell on February 4th, 2016

In a cramped spare room somewhere in Stegeman Coliseum, Frank Martin was asked about whether a loss to Georgia concerned him. “We’re 22 games into this. Who we are as a team has already been formed.” So, 22 games in, who are the Gamecocks? If you’re playing word association for this season, you might think “South Carolina, success.” That wouldn’t be wrong. The Gamecocks had an undefeated non-conference season, are in the SEC race, have been in and out of the polls and are easily Martin’s best team at South Carolina. But even at 19-3, there are reasons to be concerned about the Gamecocks going forward. 

Are the Gamecocks in trouble despite their great record? (

Are Frank Martin’s Gamecocks in trouble, despite their great record? (

In isolation, Tuesday night’s loss in Athens is not that big of a deal. The Bulldogs were desperate for a good win and the Gamecocks presented a rare opportunity to get that. Yet South Carolina was beginning a brutal four-game stretch – at least for SEC standards – against Georgia, Texas A&M (road), LSU (home) and Kentucky (home). With no marquee non-conference wins and an uneven 1-2 road SEC record going into the game, the Gamecocks were out to prove their lofty record had some substance behind it. The loss to the Bulldogs didn’t get this crucial stretch started on a good note, and also raised concerns about how the South Carolina offense will hold up against better defenses.

The Gamecock defense, like that of many Martin-coached teams, has been predictably excellent (KenPom #27). South Carolina’s offense has lagged behind, however – particularly against the better defenses it has played. The chart below shows that the Gamecocks worst shooting nights have come against some of the better defenses that they’ve faced. This may not be a groundbreaking discovery; after all, most teams don’t as well against good defenses because those defenses are, well, good. But the concern is that South Carolina hasn’t been able to do enough against the better defenses it has faced to take advantage of its great defense. That’s what makes its admittedly lackluster offensive effort against the Bulldogs puzzling. The plan against Georgia was simple: attack the middle of the Bulldogs’ zone and make Yante Maten defend the ball handler to try to get him in foul trouble. Somehow though, the Gamecocks generated their third fewest free throw attempts of the year (19) and struggled mightily to score from anywhere in the first half. “We came out lazy and chillin’, and it got us beat,” Sindarius Thornwell told The State after the game. A similar effort in College Station on Saturday against an elite, long Texas A&M that forces plenty of mistakes will not get the Gamecocks the statement win they may desperately need.

Screenshot 2016-02-03 at 10.34.52 PM

South Carolina’s offense depends heavily on getting to the line (third highest point distribution from free throws in the NCAA) and creating offense off of turnovers. Whether or not this formula is sustainable is a debatable point, but it goes without saying that the Gamecocks need to be constantly looking to drive off screens and create contact near the basket, especially against better competition. Laimonas Chatkevicius and Mindaugas Kacinas have been less effective offensively in conference play, and Chris Silva hasn’t shown much on offense yet. One solution could be going to more three-guard lineups that feature some combination of Thornwell, P.J. DozierDuane Notice and Marcus Stroman. This could also require more minutes from freshman guard Jamall Gregory, who Martin has not shown much confidence in yet. The downside of getting more shooting and slashing on the court is that it takes away the Gamecocks’ size, which has been such an asset to them this season (ninth best offensive rebounding rate in the country).

Being able to find this balance is going to be crucial for Martin. Between its great defense and experienced core, South Carolina has a lot going for it. Conventional wisdom says a team that has reached 19-3 at this point in the season in a power conference is a lock for the NCAA tournament, but what if the Gamecocks drop the next three games? They don’t have any great non-conference wins to fall back on and have the weakest in-league strength of schedule in the SEC to this point. Legitimate questions could be asked about whether they are truly worthy of a bid. To this point, this season has been a validation tour for the ground level rebuild Martin had to put together in Columbia. It would be a shame for him, the program and seniors that have been there from the start – like Michael Carrera, Chatkevicius and Kacinas, if the season didn’t end with a trip to the tournament.

Share this story

Don’t Look Now But The Gamecocks Are Rolling

Posted by Andrew Gripshover on December 28th, 2015

It sounded like he was chewing on some kind of hard candy as he ripped his team apart. You might remember the press conference if you read or heard the words. One line stood out: “I’ve been doing this for 28 years — nine of which was a junior varsity high school coach. That means I dealt with 14-year olds. I’ve never been more embarrassed to call myself a basketball coach than I am today.” That was South Carolina coach Frank Martin on Valentine’s Day in 2013 after a humiliating 64-46 home loss to LSU, a fifth consecutive defeat that dropped his first team of Gamecocks to .500 overall (12-12) and an embarrassing 2-9 in the SEC. Fast forward almost three years to today, and you might find a kinder, happier Martin. At least a little bit. South Carolina is one of five unbeatens left in Division 1 college basketball, as they head into the final week of 2015 at 11-0 after a 75-61 pre-Christmas win over St. John’s in Uncasville, CT. So how did we get from there to here in just two and a half years? And can these Gamecocks survive the rigors of conference play?

Frank Martin is extremely hard on his players, but for good reason. South Carolina, a program that was not in good shape when Martin took over, is currently one of only a handful of unbeaten teams left in college basketball. (Getty)

Frank Martin has things humming in Columbia. (Photo: Getty)

South Carolina finished Martin’s first season 14-18 and 4-14 in the SEC. It was almost exactly the same the second season; the 2013-2014 Gamecocks won the exact same number of games overall (14) and just one more in SEC play (five). But last season, while the SEC win total again only went up by one, South Carolina finished 17-16; its first record over .500 since 2009 and only its second in nine years. Last year’s team also finally won games against quality opposition, beating Oklahoma State and Iowa State in the non-conference and sweeping Georgia (an NCAA Tournament team) in league play. This year’s team should be 12-0 (D-3 Francis Marion is the Gamecocks’ only remaining 2015 opponent) when Memphis comes to town on Jan. 2. Back in that angry 2013 press conference, Martin most notably called out his team’s effort and toughness. He said they weren’t working hard enough to make shots (that 2013-2014 team finished 248th in 3-point percentage and 244th in 2-point percentage) and even compared everyone except Bruce Ellington to zombies. In short, he was extremely frustrated that they weren’t playing like a Frank Martin basketball team.

Read the rest of this entry »

Share this story

Freeze Frame: How South Carolina Broke Georgia’s Zone

Posted by Brian Joyce on February 3rd, 2015

The Gamecocks entered Saturday having dropped six of their last seven games, including the last four. Georgia came in on the opposite end of the spectrum, riding into Columbia on a five-game winning streak and feeling good about its NCAA Tournament chances. So it stands to reason that South Carolina’s defense (11th nationally in adjusted defensive efficiency) completely shut down the surging Bulldogs, holding Georgia to 22 percent shooting for the game. After an early 13-9 deficit, Georgia turned to a 2/3 zone with 11 minutes remaining in the first half. Frank Martin’s squad lacks a legitimate outside shooting threat, but he used screens and quick ball movement around the zone to propel his offense to its most efficient output (1.04 points per possession) since January 13 (a win over Alabama). In this edition of Freeze Frame, we review how South Carolina was able to break down the Bulldogs’ zone and notch an important conference win.

Frank Martin picked up a big win over Georgia with an efficient zone offense.  (

Frank Martin picked up a big win over Georgia with an efficient zone offense. (

The first play we will examine came with 9:42 left in the first half. Georgia had recently switched to the 2/3 zone and the Gamecocks used screens on the perimeter to free up their shooters off the dribble. In this play, South Carolina’s Sindarius Thornwell works the ball into the middle of the zone where Michael Carrera has set up shop.

Read the rest of this entry »

Share this story

Three Takeaways from Kentucky vs. South Carolina

Posted by Brian Joyce on January 25th, 2015

When you take in a live game, sometimes you can sense that the home team thinks it can win. Everything about the aura in Colonial Life Arena on Saturday told me the Gamecocks felt they had a chance to beat the top-ranked Wildcats. The crowd was into it; the team gave 100 percent effort; and after a three-pointer from Sindarius Thornwell, South Carolina led by one with just 4:31 left in the first half. That was where it all ended, though. A big-time victory wasn’t meant to be for a Gamecocks squad that looked much improved from their last couple of times out, but there were several key takeaways that we will see play out through March for Kentucky and the rest of the SEC.

Frank Martin was proud of his team's effort on Saturday against the number one team in the country (Bruce Thorson/US Presswire).

Frank Martin was proud of his team’s effort on Saturday against the number one team in the country (Bruce Thorson/US Presswire).

  1. “Stop saying the SEC isn’t any good” –  South Carolina coach Frank Martin was emphatic in making sure the assembled media knew his stance on the legitimacy of the conference. As he was answering another question, he couldn’t let the moment pass: “By the way, stop saying the SEC isn’t any good,” he said to the room. He has a point. At the time of this writing, the SEC has eight teams ranked among the top 60 of the RPI. Kentucky (#1), Arkansas (#24), Georgia (#26) Texas A&M (#32), LSU (#44), Alabama (#52), Tennessee (#54), and Ole Miss (#59) all are in position for consideration for an NCAA Tournament bid. Additionally, according to Ken Pomeroy, the SEC is the fourth-best conference in the country, behind only the Big 12, Big East and ACC. The SEC has proven its worth this season, and Selection Sunday should assist in shedding the unfair label that the league is just Kentucky and everybody else. Read the rest of this entry »
Share this story

Impressions From the SEC’s Thursday Games

Posted by Greg Mitchell on November 21st, 2014

Yesterday was a busy day in the always-interesting world of SEC basketball. Kentucky and Florida were both idle, but the league still managed to go 5-1 with the only blemish being Texas A&M’s loss in an ugly game against Dayton. That’s a successful day considering Dayton sits respectably at #50 in KenPom’s latest ratings and the SEC has already taken its fair share of lumps this year. Small steps, people. Here are a handful of thoughts from yesterday’s action.

Anthony Grant may have the personnel to run an effective zone this season (

Anthony Grant may have the personnel to run an effective zone this season (

  • Alabama flashes defensive potential against Southern Miss. We can finally mention Southern Miss on this microsite without discussing Donnie Tyndall. The story of this game, won by Alabama 81-67, was the potential of its defense. The Crimson Tide are flush with long, versatile guys this season who can play both on the perimeter and in the post. Anthony Grant ran a lot of 1-3-1 zone against the Golden Eagles, and while it didn’t exactly flummox them as they scored a point per possession, the strategy could turn into a nice season-long weapon for Alabama. Consider the personnel in Grant’s rotation: Levi Randolph (6’5’’), Rodney Cooper (6’6’’), Shannon Hale (6’8’’), Jimme Taylor (6’10’’), Michael Kessens (6’9’’) and Riley Norris (6’7’’). All of these guys are either natural wings or can hold their own on the perimeter. Ricky Tarrant also looked at home in picking up three steals out of the zone. It worked last night largely because the Golden Eagles went 8-of-29 from three, but it’s something for opponents to think about going forward.

Read the rest of this entry »

Share this story

Assessing Some Positives Amid an SEC Meltdown

Posted by Greg Mitchell (@gregpmitchell) on November 17th, 2014

Hard as it may be to believe, SEC teams did do some good things on opening night (try not to fall out of your chair). Here are several positives that might have fallen through the cracks amid the conference’s Friday night meltdown.

Kentucky Bigs Own the Glass. The rebounding numbers that the Wildcats put on Grand Canyon Friday night were absurd. John Calipari’s gaggle of ultra-talented bigs grabbed 64.7 percent of the teams’ missed shots, which was good for 22 offensive rebounds. The Antelopes only had 20 total rebounds on their side, finishing the game -27 on the glass. Every Kentucky forward who played grabbed at least four boards, and while there are some open questions about the Wildcats’ outside shooting, that doesn’t really matter when they absolutely dominate on the glass. Opening night was a perfect example of this: Kentucky was just 3-of-14 from three-point land but still won the game by 40 points because Grand Canyon couldn’t take advantage of those misses.

Dakari Johnson led Kentucky's rebounding feast against Grand Canyon with 13 boards (

Dakari Johnson led Kentucky’s rebounding feast against Grand Canyon with 13 boards (

The Aggies Offense. Texas A&M burned up the nets in Reed Arena on Friday night against Northwestern State, averaging a whopping 1.30 points per possession in their 109-68 win against the Demons by shooting 57 percent from the field and 47 percent from three. Seven Aggies scored in double figures, led by Antwan Space and Jalen Jones with 16 apiece. Tavario Miller was the biggest opening night surprise for Billy Kennedy, as the sophomore who averaged just 1.8 points per game last season went a perfect 6-of-6 from the field and scored 15 points. Texas A&M’s offense is a hot topic because it brings back a good defensive team from a year ago. Northwestern State wasn’t an ideal litmus test (#206 in KenPom’s rankings), but the offensive clinic the Aggies put on against them was still a very good way to start the season.

Read the rest of this entry »

Share this story

Eminently Watchable: Assessing Year Three of the Frank Martin Experience

Posted by Christian D'Andrea on October 31st, 2014

Under Frank Martin, South Carolina has quietly become one of the most interesting teams in the SEC. Not flashy, not high-scoring, maybe not even specifically “good”… but interesting? Absolutely. Martin’s blueprint for a turnaround in Columbia isn’t written in ink; it’s been sculpted in malleable clay. The veteran coach has been tasked with taking the under-appreciated spoils of the disastrous Darrin Horn regime and fusing them with the flashier products of taking a Big 12 Coach of the Year title on the recruiting trail. Those pieces are slowly coming together, cobbling the foundation for a return to big time basketball in the Palmetto State.

Frank Martin (USA Today)

Frank Martin Feels Like He’s Turning the Corner at South Carolina (USA Today)

Martin’s team can be divided into two camps. The most prominent one is filled with the high-flyers that Martin brought to South Carolina despite his team’s underwhelming recent history. Top 100 recruits Sindarius Thornwell and Demetrius Henry chose Columbia a year ago thanks to their coach’s reputation rather than the program’s results. Four-star guard Tyrone Williams took his talent south after one year in Villanova’s rotation. Similarly rated point guard Marcus Stroman joined the team for his first NCAA season this fall. Suddenly, the Gamecocks have the personnel to throw elite athletes at their opponents at nearly every position. The key to the program’s success, however, may lie in the guys from the other camp – the overlooked players who pledged to a first-year coach. The guys who committed to a veteran leader whose primary duty was to put out the dumpster fire that had been left in front of him. That includes Lithuanian bangers Laimonas Chatkevicius and Mindaugas Kacinas. It also includes the linchpin that holds this team together – Michael Carrera.

Read the rest of this entry »

Share this story

SEC Season Preview: South Carolina Gamecocks

Posted by Greg Mitchell on October 28th, 2014

The SEC microsite will preview each of the league teams over the next few weeks, continuing today with the South Carolina Gamecocks.

Strengths. The league’s best backcourt may reside in Columbia, South Carolina. If that’s too much for you to process [Ed. Note: The one in Lexington might be pretty good too], then maybe the backcourt with the most upside in the SEC resides in the Palmetto State. Sophomores Sindarius Thornwell and Duane Notice assumed more responsibility last season than Frank Martin probably would have given them in an ideal world, but that experience should pay dividends this time around as Thornwell in particular flashed all-conference potential at times. The Gamecocks lost Brenton Williams, but will get Tyrone Johnson back from a fractured foot that ended his season in January. They also add four-star point guard and Columbia native Marcus Stroman to the mix. These four guys give Martin a nice mix of shooting, slashing and play-making ability that he could ride to his best season yet at South Carolina.

Screenshot 2014-10-27 at 9.13.33 PM

Sindarius Thornwell will be a giant part of Frank Martin’s third team at South Carolina (Credit:

Weaknesses. Depth. Not even a minute has ticked off the clock this season and the Gamecocks have already lost 75 percent of their freshmen class, as neither of James Thompson and Shamiek Sheppard will be taking the floor in 2014-15. Thompson was arrested in June and never enrolled in school while Sheppard tore an ACL over the summer. This was followed by freshman guard TeMarcus Blanton injuring his hip last week in practice, putting him also out for the season. This subjects the Gamecocks to potentially dicey situations since they had a penchant for foul trouble last season, with six players collecting more than 72 fouls during the campaign.

Read the rest of this entry »

Share this story

SEC M5: 10.24.14 Edition

Posted by David Changas on October 24th, 2014


  1. South Carolina was picked to finish 12th in the SEC by the media earlier this week, but coach Frank Martin is encouraged about the progress his team is making as he enters his third year. He is especially pleased with the leadership he is seeing from his backcourt duo of sophomore Sindarius Thornwell and senior Tyrone Johnson. If the Gamecocks are going to make a climb out of the bottom of the league, they will need the pair to take another step forward.
  2. The SEC put three teams into the Sweet Sixteen last season, but there is no dispute that the league has lacked significant depth, and has struggled to find teams other than Kentucky and Florida that can consistently compete for an NCAA Tournament bid. As‘s Zach Dillard points out, one way to remedy the perception the league has is by playing better collective out-of-conference schedules. Too often, teams that finish near the top of the league standings do not have enough of a resume to be considered for a bid. For instance, Georgia finished third in the league last season, but was an afterthought with the selection committee because of a handful of bad losses in November and December. The more the league’s teams do to take on tougher competition, the better positioned they will be come Selection Sunday.
  3. As he embarks upon his first season at Tennessee, Donnie Tyndall credits getting his first shot at a high-major school to another former SEC coach: LSU’s John Brady. Brady coached the Tigers to a Final Four in 2006, but was not exactly a favorite of coaches or fans in the league before he was fired two years later. Tyndall says the current Arkansas State coach taught him “how to build a program,” and he hopes to put those lessons into practice as he rebuilds the Volunteers.
  4. Everyone knew that having Bruce Pearl back in the SEC would be fun, and he continues to do whatever it takes to promote his Auburn program. Earlier this week, he invaded a marketing class to promote his “Pearl Jam” event next Friday. So while Pearl is at a new school and in a different shade of orange, he hasn’t changed, and though his team likely will struggle to compete this season, he will do all he can to raise the profile of the Auburn program, while at the same time bringing much-needed notoriety to the SEC.
  5. As preseason practice continues, Kentucky coach John Calipari is looking for more fight from his most ballyhooed freshman, Karl-Anthony Towns. Towns, a 7′ center, was selected by the media as a second-team all-SEC player before setting foot on the court, will have to live up to the hype if the Wildcats are going to win the national championship. Towns has plenty of opportunity to get better in practice each day, as he goes up against Willie Cauley-Stein, Dakari Johnson, and Marcus Lee. As usual with Kentucky, there will be ups and downs, but with the experience and depth this team has, Calipari can wait for his star freshman to come along.
Share this story

Breaking Down the Top 10 SEC Likely Returnees

Posted by Greg Mitchell on April 10th, 2014

No player on the lengthy 2013-14 all-SEC first team will be back next season (barring a couple of unlikely reversals), leaving the conference leaderboards completely up for grabs. The top returnees feature a heavy number of sophomores, and could be shaken up depending on some of the announcements out of Lexington over the next few days. Here are the top 10 SEC players to watch for in 2014-15.

Bobby Portis will anchor Mike Anderson's 2014-15 Arkansas squad (

Bobby Portis will anchor Mike Anderson’s 2014-15 Arkansas squad (

  1. Bobby Portis, Arkansas. Portis’ offensive efficiency stood out most during his freshman year, but he also was in the SEC’s top 10 in rebounds and blocks per game. He also has experience as a marked man as he became the Razorbacks’ primary option as the season wore on. Portis should flourish in his sophomore campaign, especially if Mike Anderson relents and plays him more than 30 minutes per game.
  2. Jordan Mickey, LSU. Mickey had a better statistical season than Portis, but he did so with Johnny O’Bryant commanding the bulk of attention. O’Bryant is now gone, and Mickey will become the Tigers’ top option in the low post. If his jumper continues to improve (39.3% on two-point jump shots) he’ll be a load on offense. Mickey also had the sixth most blocks in the country as a freshman.
  3. Andrew Harrison, Kentucky. Harrison and his brother are expected to return to Lexington, but it wouldn’t surprise anyone if they both left school either. If they do stick around, they’ll look to turn solid play in the NCAA Tournament into breakout sophomore seasons. Andrew gets the nod here merely because his position is more important, but he’ll need to improve on the 1.4 assist-to-turnover ratio he posted as a freshman. He could become a Tyreke Evans-type lead guard who looks to score first and creates offensive rebounding opportunities for his frontcourt with penetration and shots at the rim. Read the rest of this entry »
Share this story